Classroom Animals and Pets - Millipedes


Millipedes – Definition

The World Book Encyclopedia definition is:

n. any one of a class of small, wormlike arthropods having a body consisting of many segments, most of which bear two pairs of legs; diplopod: Millipedes do not rank as a major agricultural pest (Science News). (Latin millepeda <mille thousand + pes, pedis foot)

Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Diplopoda

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“Zid”, our Giant African millipede, was purchased form a pet store for a Grade 2 Creeping Crawlies unit. I simply was chatting about school with one of my friendly salespersons and she said, “Boy, have I got a creepy crawly for you!” He was $14.95, which seemed awfully expensive for a “bug”, but he had SO many legs… who could resist! Zid lived in a plastic (about 3 gallon tank) for 3 years before I learned more about millipedes from a lady who had quite a collection of them. I didn’t realize that millipedes actually “drank”, so poor Zid had to suffice with sucking on a soggy sponge! The substrate was corn cob, like I had seen in the pet store, but Zid’s favourite place was on top of a big chunk of wood. I’m so glad he survived until I learned more and gave him a nicer home. Zid has now passed away, but he must have been at least 6 or 7 years old. Quite a lifespan for a little creature!

I tried numerous times to obtain a breeding pair from the pet store, but the reply from the supplier was always “can’t help you out”. Then I met the lady mentioned above, a couple of years ago, and was able to purchase a breeding pair of millipedes from her. Neither she nor I were able to tell the sex of the millipedes, despite the descriptions we had read about the “specialized legs” on the male, but this pair had laid eggs so we knew they were different! Unfortunately, a month later one of the pair died. Inquiries have led me to believe that the cause of death probably was feeding Kale to them. I had just found out that my birds loved it and thought maybe the millipedes would too. It seems, however, that imported Kale sometimes has a chemical lethal to them. The birds were all fine and after keeping "Zid" alive for so long, I feel that the “new additive” must have been the problem. I tried putting “Zid” and the remaining partner together, but I guess they must have been the same sex, because they simply weren’t interested in one another.

Lucky me, however, because there were 7 babies in the soil underneath the breeding pair! Giant Millipede eggs are white and look a lot like large snail eggs. The babies were small and very white! The babies do not come out on the surface at all, and so all food must be buried. Also, it is important to have droppings from the parents in the soil. Finding this out really changed my method of cleaning! I used to scoop out everything and replace with fresh soil. Now I bury everything and sometimes just add new organic soil instead. I was surrprised to find tiny brown millipedes in the soil after doing this, and I understand, from an environmentalist friend, that these have probably come in with the organic soil. I sometimes add a little leaf litter from the forest, so they might have entered that way too. It’s fun to use a magnifying glass to look at these tiny replicas of the “big guys” . The Giant Millipede babies are well over a year old now, and seem to be doing very well. Needless to say, the millipedes never get any Kale! I feed them well washed lettuce, carrot shavings, apple slices, corn and peas. I was also surprised to find that they really enjoy dried fish food flakes. I can’t think how I got the idea… but I sprinkle them in a big clam shell (to keep them from any moisture in the tank) and they disappear withing a few days. Oh… the new home has a good 6” of organic soil. There are slabs of bark, moss, and a pool of water. It is really exciting to see one of the millipedes with his (her?) head over the dish, having a little drink! Usually the millipedes stay in between the bark chunks or burrowed under the “pool”. A resident spider takes care of any fruit flies that are attracted in. Naturally, I am hoping that as my millipedes grow I will have the chance to see the differences between males and females, and, of course, raise new little ones!

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Related Web Sites

An interesting site which tells about several different kinds of millipedes.

Donna Hill, my favourite environmentalist, tells about the Yellow-Spotted millipede of the Pacific Northwest.

Species spotlight on millipedes

An excellent article on the captive care and breeding of the Giant Millipede.

Gordon Ramel's care sheet on Giant Millipedes
(note: I understand that Gordon's entomological web site may become commercial, due to lack of funding. I'm signing up... it's well worth the price!)

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